Tech round-up for Jan. 28: Monitoring Internet downloads, science and statistics, digital effects jobs

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This week: math is your friend, finding a job in digital effects, and are your downloads being monitored?

Canadian surveillance agency monitoring file downloads

The big story of the day is how the Communications Security Establishment (CSE, formerly CSEC) has been filtering millions of downloads looking for evidence that they say could connect people to terrorism through a program codenamed “Levitation”.

The revelation comes from Glen Greenwald from documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

One of the documents is a PowerPoint presentation in which an analyst from the agency jokes about how the analysis had to occur around downloads of Glee.

Greenwald told the CBC that this is the first time Canada has been shown to be leading a mass surveillance program.

The issue is that while CSE is mandated to collect foreign intelligence, by law it is not permitted to spy on Canadians. And yet Levitation does not discriminate. And once something suspicious has been identified, CSE is able to identify IP addresses, which can then be used to identify individuals.

As for what CSE considers to be significant, they aren’t telling.

Using math to prove the world is a better place

I’m a big believer in using science and math to guide how we live our lives. Unless you live in particular inner-city neighbourhoods, you’re living in a safer world than ever. And yet parents in the United States are being investigated by the police because they let their 10- and 6-year-old walk home from school without adult supervision.

Yet the numbers don’t lie. In Canada, the crime rate has been falling for years, and is lower than it has been for decades. Crime is down, while our perception and awareness of crime goes up.

And if you want to keep your children safe from danger and death, never put them in a motor vehicle. U.S. stats show that twice as many children die in motor vehicle accidents than due to homicide. And those that were murdered were killed by parents or acquaintances 97 percent of the time.

Max Roser is an economist at Oxford who is creating “100 charts that show how living standards around the world are changing”.

Roser is using data from which is a repository of empirical information about how the world is changing. As Roser writes there: “Much of what we learn from the research on how our world is changing is very positive and shows a very optimistic picture of the world.”

In some of his first of 100 charts, Roser has shown that:

Spark Fwd conference and job fair this weekend

Starting with two screenings tomorrow night at the VIFF Vancity Theatre, Spark Fwd 2015 gets underway.

It’s put on by Vancouver’s Spark Computer Graphics Society, an offshoot of the Vancouver chapter of ACM SIGGRAPH.

Spark Fwd is about imaging and visual effects, and “brings the most talented artists, inventors, directors and studio executives from around the world to Vancouver to share their experience and inspire the visual effects community.”

Part of the event is a free, day-long job fair, but note that to participate you must pre-register.

The conference runs with a series of panels on Friday and Saturday. Here are some highlights:

  • Ara Khanikian, visual effects supervisor on Birdman, talking about the Oscar-nominated film’s “invisible” effects
  • Representatives from New Zealand’s Weta Digital talking about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.
  • CBC science journalist Bob McDonald and NASA’s Nagin Cox talking about Mars Curiosity Rover, on which Cox is the mission lead

It all wraps up with a look at Back to the Future with the film’s director of photography, Dean Cundey, the DeLorean Time Machine designer and special effects supervisor, Kevin Pike, and original storyboard and concept artist, Andrew Probert in conversation with CapU’s Michael van den Bos.

And, of course, a screening of the Michael J. Fox film. This one here.


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